The Cornerstone by Anne C. Petty 

By L. Dean Murphy

How do you catch a banshee? The consequences of such dark magic are high and may cost your very soul. When a small theatrical company takes on the production of Christopher Marlowe’s play, “Doctor Faustus,” things don’t go as planned. Unexplained stage effects appear as cast members disappear, accidents seem more than coincidence, and an earthquake splits a busy downtown thoroughfare. And there’s a rumored ghost in the basement.

Anne Petty added, “THE CORNERSTONE is my take on the old ‘Doctor Faustus’ tale in which a writer sells his soul to Satan for fame and fortune. I became fascinated with the legend in college and loved what Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe had done with the tale. It got me to thinking what would the so-called Faustian bargain look like today, in our modern unsuperstitious age?”

Frank Michaels Errington rated THE CORNERSTONE five stars, saying Petty “has masterfully blended elements of Christopher Marlowe, John Dee, THE TRAGICAL HISTORY OF DR. FAUSTUS, and Irish prehistory of the Boyne Valley tomb monuments into a beautifully compelling story. I loved how all the major plot points came together, giving the reader a complete story, told well, with characters I came to love or despise. And despite the subject matter, I completely believed these events may have occurred. There is that ring of truth to the tale.”

Writers have difficulty identifying favorite scenes, like choosing a favorite pet. Petty said, “Three scenes stand out for me: the opening one in which two practitioners of magic manage to trap a banshee in Ireland’s Boyne Valley; the pivotal scene in which the main character makes the Faustian bargain; and the climax of the story where the infernal bargain must be paid off. I relished writing that scene because it does what I enjoy best about horror fiction, bringing unbelievable phenomena into ordinary life.”

What inspires Petty to write horror tales? “I love the creepy feeling that crossover horror/dark fantasy sends up my spine when the supernatural bumps up against everyday life. The mind wants to deny what the senses see or hear or feel, but the evidence of things that ‘shouldn’t be’ simply won’t go away. Most of my writing hinges on that collision of the supernatural with the mundane.”

Writers are foremost readers. Petty opined about outstanding authors. “My tastes have always run toward the dark side. Favorite authors when I was young included Poe, Hawthorne, Lovecraft, Dunsany, and a host of similar writers. I consumed all the adventure novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells, and didn’t get into fantasists like Tolkien and Le Guin until much later, but those two especially brought a love of language and careful story-crafting into my awareness. Modern authors I enjoy are Tad Williams and Kij Johnson.”

Petty has advice for aspiring writers. “Read widely. Develop your own voice without trying to copy a style not your own. Write the book that’s inside you, that you feel passion for, and ignore publishing fads of what’s hot. Write the book that drives you, then worry about where it might be published. Also, master the basics of grammar and spelling so editors like me won’t have to kill you. Fine-tune your author’s inner ear—does the prose sing or suck?”

As for the mechanics of writing, Petty spoke about sticking to plot, outlines and rewriting. “The core of THE CORNERSTONE—a writer making a Faustian bargain and then having to pay up—never changed, but the means to the end shifted a number of times. You have to be willing to delete characters and subplots if they pull you too far off course.

“When I write novels, I know the beginning and the ending and can see those two critical scenes in some detail. My outline looks more like short chapter sketches because my brain works in spatial mode—I’m always trying to picture the shape of the book, where the energy peaks and falls. I change things if I’ve painted myself into a corner, but I normally stick to my original road map pretty closely.”

Petty rarely writes a novel straight through. “I’m inclined to write scenes or chapters that excite me at the moment, and not necessarily in plot order. I often struggle over that first draft, but I love editing and polishing, which means I do a LOT of rewriting.”

Writers adore comprehensive compliments. At the launch party of her current novel, another writer said, “I especially liked the literary aspect and time travel, but your descriptions of the supernatural cataclysms and transformations were evocative and compelling. I don’t follow or read this genre much, but THE CORNERSTONE is not just a genre book—thanks to your interests, knowledge, and research. The plotting is deft, the structure sophisticated, and the prose supple. Congratulations!”

Everything old is new. Petty said, “All my fiction is in eBook format. I love my Kindle and find the current electronic publishing landscape very liberating. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever lose my love for physical books.”

In closing Petty said, “I’m often asked what I am afraid of in real life. My answer is politicians and clowns.”

Politicians and clowns? Now that’s a horror story with a Washington, DC setting waiting to be written.

*****

Anne C. Petty is the author of three horror/dark-fantasy novels (THE CORNERSTONE, THIN LINE BETWEEN, SHAMAN’S BLOOD); editor of the upcoming LIMBUS, INC. shared-world anthology; a Florida Gothic suspense series co-written with P.V. LeForge; three books of literary criticism, and many essays on the craft of writing and mythology. She is a J.R.R. Tolkien scholar.

Recent short fiction includes her award-winning story Blade. Petty published The Veritas Experience in The Best Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction of 2009, and The Real Deal was included in the anthology SLICES OF FLESH from Dark Moon Books.

To learn more about Anne, visit her website.

Dean Murphy

L. Dean Murphy interviews authors and reviews books for Bookreporter.com & The Big Thrill. The MWA, FWA and ITW member is working on, The Art of Murder, and Two Bodies. His maxim is "When there’s nothing left, write."

Visit him at: www.DeanMurphy.net.

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